Lent 2018: What is it and when does it begin?

Lent is the season before Easter that Christians dedicate to fasting, prayer, reflection, and charity. And this year, it will begin on Valentine's Day.

(REUTERS / Juan Carlos Ulate)A woman with a cross of ashes on her forehead prays during the traditional Ash Wednesday service, at the Metropolitan Cathedral in San Jose, Costa Rica February 25, 2009.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' executive director of secretariat of doctrine and canonical affairs, Fr. Michael Fuller, explained that Lent commemorates the 40 days that Jesus spent in prayer and fasting in the desert after being baptized. He said these weeks ought to be spent in developing and rejuvenating one's relationship with God, USA Today relayed.

It is worth noting that Sundays are not included in the prescribed fasting days for the season of Lent, so the period actually runs for 46 days. This year, Lent starts on Feb. 14 and ends on March 29, which is Holy Thursday.

Fuller said the practice of fasting and giving up worldly pleasures are forms of self-denial that teaches a person to desire more of God and less of material things. It is recommended that those with ages 18 to 59 should fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. This involves eating one meatless meal and two other small meals for those particular days.

The ashes, on the other hand, remind followers that they came from dust and that they will return to that form after they die. They also represent penance, as people in the olden days used to sit in ashes and dress in sackcloth when they repented for their sins.

This year, Pope Francis took his cue from Jesus' sermon on the Mount of Olives for his Lenten message. The pontiff warned the faithful against false prophets who may lead them astray and against finding their happiness in temporary things, the Vatican News reported.

The pope said there were many young people who find pleasure in drugs, temporary relationships, and "dishonest gain." This made them miss the most precious gifts of love, dignity, and freedom.

Toward the end of his message, Pope Francis urged Christians to immerse themselves in prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. These practices help people get rid of self-deception and greed as well as rejuvenate their desire to obey the Lord.